Saturday, August 25, 2007

Philosophizing

So, Enyo and Milka (my landlords) aren't here, but their son and his girlfriend are staying in my apartment. It's obvious that it's never been about limited beds. It's just them wanting that room. I really hope this apartment I'm going to see tomorrow works out. I just don't get how these people can give me the cold shoulder after I pointed out that this behavior was unacceptable. Actually, I'm a mouse. I don't fight for my rights. I'll defend others to a point (and even sometimes then barely), but I'll let you walk all over me if it will avoid a fight. It's just as much my fault for letting them do it as it is theirs for taking the opportunity. As my grandmother so aptly pointed out, "We teach others how to treat us."
I have, in so many occasions, defended the Roma to Bulgarians. I have gotten in the most heated of arguments with what I see as discrimination. Some Bulgarians are quick to talk about all the ways the Roma are "ruining" "their" country. As soon as I use the word "hate," however, most are quick to say they don't hate the Roma. They're unwilling to accept the term "racist." Most people are. The interesting thing is: I don't do it when my boss starts going off on Bulgarians.
My boss can say the most hurtful, unfair things about ethnic-Bulgarians. I had to work today, along with Yanko and Valia, with a nearby young people's group who wants funding for an initiative. They're a great group of guys - all Christian's who do their best to live up to Christian ideals. After finishing up our work for the day, we were standing around in the hot sun - joking around and talking. My boss kept cracking jokes about Bulgarians and talking about his intense dislike for them. One of the boys piped up and criticized Yanko's hatred for Bulgarians. "Wait a second," said Yanko, "I don't hate Bulgarians. There are exceptions." It sounded just like a Bulgarian talking about Roma.
This post isn't an update on what I'm doing. It's a partial update on what I'm thinking. Bulgarians talk a lot about "philosophizing." It can have both positive and negative connotations. I have to take this opportunity to admit I'm not perfect. I know this. Does this mean I shouldn't point out things I don't like?
There are things about the foundation I work for that I definitely do not like. The problem is, I don't always speak up and point them out like I should. I figure I'll just get shot down, I'll talk from inexperience, or I'll bring about opportunity for conflict. There's a quote by Elbert Hubbard that says, "To avoid criticism - say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." It's an awesome quote, and I seem to live by it. Instead of telling my colleagues or people here how I feel, I keep my mouth shut. I always thought I wouldn't care what people from another culture (who I was only living with for two years) thought about me as long as I felt I was doing what was right. This has not proved to be true. I still care way too much about what people think/say about the American. Lame. I become, in effect, powerless.
Instead of hanging around some more this afternoon with my colleagues and the initiative group, I lied and said I had other things to do. The truth was, I didn't want to listen to the conversation anymore. I don't do the whole "na ghosti" thing anymore. I don't know why. It almost always turns out that I'd just rather be alone.
My colleagues have really taken to speaking Roma in my presence. This last week, when I was helping Valia make mequitsi, she and Ani started speaking in Roma. After we ate, and I decided to leave, Valia asked why I didn't stick around? Why should I stay and stare off into space while you two speak a language I don't understand? I did enough of that when I was trying to learn Bulgarian. And I learned it.
What's awful is when they do it in the office - even though they know the office manager and I don't understand. The problem is, I don't speak up about it (Yanko does it for me when he's there). I just stew and wonder how they can be so inconsiderate. I remember how they never did that, even a year ago. I'm going to stop this post because... well, it's not fair that I hide behind my blog. It isn't correct to be forthright in a place that's "hidden" in a sense. Strangers know how I feel about all this, but the people here closest to me aren't clued in.
This isn't necessarily an encouraging post from a girl who's here to stay on a third year. Angel gave me some great advice, "If you're going to really stay here for another year, Apryl, make this your year." I gotta start biting the bullet and demanding what I need without worry someone will hate me for it. It's ridiculous. I put in my service. I gave them a good two years. When will I have the courage to be me?
I think the big reason I fear returning home is confronting myself again and all the problems I will encounter. Here, I'm so "native," as some would say, that it's hard for me to remember what parts of perception are "American" and which are "Bulgarian." This is going to sound horrible, and I don't want to offend Bulgarians, but I'm going to say it anyway: What scares me about returning to the states... is that it will be more "Bulgarian" than I can handle. When something goes wrong, or I confront an attitude or an action I don't like, I easily write it off as "Bulgarian." I won't have that luxury back in the U.S. I've already heard some things from friends in the states that seem so "Bulgarian" to me, but I can't write it off (discriminatorily - that word really is in the dictionary) as something that is inherent to Bulgaria because it is happening in the states. I have comforted myself upon witnessing things I don't like by saying, "It's okay, Apryl. You're here for a limited time only." But what if these things happen in the states? How will I escape from them? How will I escape from me? What if it's not "Bulgaria?" What if it was just me growing up and recognizing the problems in the world?
I stumbled across a blog maintained by a PCV in Namibia. She's all the way in Africa, and I'm here in Eastern Europe, but it was amazing to compare the challenges we faced: discrimination, low self-esteem and low self-expectation in the people we work with, questions about our impact as PCVs, etc. Maybe not every PCV would agree with me, but I think there's a commonality that brings us all together as volunteers. Even though you're in a completely different continent, on some level, you will understand me. In her last post, she shared a quote I really liked. I sure wish people would act this way in spite of me not being perfect:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

- Kent M. Keith

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